In search of Nigeria’s statesmen

WITH the struggle for power by the political class which has resulted in the polity being extremely heated and the political space becoming awfully dangerous with brickbats floating in the air, my mind travels to the 2012 Democratic Party’s National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the unforgettable speech of Julian Castro, a former Mayor of San Antonio, who was the keynote speaker at the convention.

After regaling the audience with the story of his grandmother, an orphan who had arrived in the USA with little education, Castro had said the woman was able to see her only daughter through college because of the opportunities available in the country. With her college education, the daughter had a better life than her mother. And by extension, the life of Castro, a third generation immigrant who is the immediate past United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is an improvement on both his mother and grandmother’s lives because of the opportunities available in the country.

According to Castro, “America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident. My grandmother’s generation and generations before always saw beyond the horizons of their own lives and their own circumstances. They believed that opportunity created today would lead to prosperity tomorrow. That’s the country they envisioned, and that’s the country they helped build. The roads and bridges they built, the schools and universities they created, the rights they fought for and won—these opened the doors to a decent job, a secure retirement, the chance for your children to do better than you did.”

Therein lies the difference between the USA and Nigeria; every generation creates opportunities for the succeeding one. That is why the American story keeps getting better one generation after the other. Contrariwise in Nigeria, every generation narrows the opportunities available to the succeeding one. That is why the glorious days in the country seem to be in the past. It is common in the country to refer to the past in glowing terms and the present in gloomy tones. This is because every succeeding generation is worse off than the preceding ones.

It is unfortunate but the stark reality is that there is a dearth of statesmen in Nigeria. Yes, we have public office holders in thousands and we have politicians in millions but those who put the affairs of the state ahead of personal interests are scanty. Majority of those who stomp around as our nation’s leaders and the people’s champions are not altruistic, they are in it for what they stand to benefit.

From those who want to hold on to power by all means to those who are bent on wresting and wrenching power from them, we have men and women who are driven by their personal prosperity and not matters of posterity.

Our leaders do not believe in creating opportunities, they are more interested in wiping them out. Making sacrifices is a tall order for them; their interest is in feathering their own nest. They have no plan for the future because that will affect the satisfaction of their greed. That is why they take loans and blow the funds on frivolities; that is why they are not interested in saving for the rainy day and that is why elected representatives have no qualms stealing from the treasury and destroying our patrimony.

How many of our current leaders see beyond the horizons of their own lives and their own circumstances? How many of them believe in creating opportunities today for a better tomorrow? How many of them believe in sacrificing their comfort for the good of the people?

Leadership is defined primarily by two words; vision and selflessness. A leader must be able to create the picture of a desirable future in the minds of the people. That is vision. He must also be able to overlook his personal benefits and discomfort in bringing to reality the envisioned future. The American society became what it is because of the vision of the founding fathers and their selflessness. That is why they were able to create opportunities for succeeding generations. They had posterity in mind; hence personal prosperity was not their motivation.

But statesmen don’t just evolve; their emergence is in response to societal demands. Can the US president give less than his best? Can the British prime minister fail to perform optimally? When a society demands performance from its leaders, statesmanship becomes a matter of course. But any society that gives the leaders the impression that they can get away with anything can only make progress in reverse.

As observed by Iyabo Obasanjo in her letter to her father, “People ultimately get leaders that reflect them. I don’t blame you for the many atrocities you have been able to get away with, Nigerians were your enablers every step of the way….This, your attitude, is a reflection of the country. It is not certain which came first, your attitude seeping into the country’s psyche or the country accepting your irresponsible behaviour for so long.”

If we suffer fools gladly, we shall groan sadly.